Gripping true crime doesn’t need blood or bodies. An Aussie conwoman is enough
7th September 2023

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True crime is about to get weirder. That’s the prediction of Andrew Farrell, head of factual entertainment at Australian production company CJZ and an executive producer of Con Girl, a four-part documentary about the bizarre case of Sydney conwoman Samantha Azzopardi who was notorious for posing as a child.

“The stories have to be stranger and stranger to make it onto Netflix,” explains Farrell, whose credits include Deadly Women, Murder in the Outback about the Peter Falconio disappearance, and Undercurrent, about the Susan Neill-Fraser conviction.

Emma Krieg plays convicted conwoman Samantha Azzopardi in the true-crime documentary Con Girl.

“People have seen so many true-crime stories, it has to be something weirder to grab your attention. Expect Tinder Swindler meets Tiger King – that’s what’s coming up in the next few years.”

Con Girl, which makes its Australian debut on the Seven Network after launching earlier this year to US audiences on Paramount+, ticks all those boxes. Along with the 35-year-old’s most infamous crimes, like posing as a mute 14-year-old potential sex-trafficking victim in Dublin in 2013 and, in 2019, abducting a small child and a baby from a Melbourne home where she worked as an au pair under a false identity and dressing as a schoolgirl and travelling to Bendigo, a string of other peculiar cons comes to light.

The case of Azzopardi, a woman who deceived multiple targets for no financial gain, while inflicting serious psychological damage, baffles even the experts interviewed for the series. From an entertainment perspective, such a rare and intriguing story is gold.

“We’re evolving into bloodless, or body-less crimes now,” Farrell explains. “We’re not always telling stories about murder, or the interior life of an American serial killer. We’re talking about things that aren’t quite as gory or icky. Also, a lot of true crime is dealing with horrendous violence against women, especially with American serial killers, and I think people might have had enough of that. They’re interested in explorations of other strange behaviour, and it’s strange behaviour at the extreme end of the spectrum, which is so fascinating.”

Con Girl producer Andrew Farrell believes true-crime stories are about to get weirder.

Such “bloodless” true-crime series are designed to appeal to the citizen forensic psychiatrist, as much as our detective instincts.

“That’s one of our intentions,” says Farrell. “Our question is, ‘Why did she do it?’ Also, what are the things about the way cons operate and the way we’re wired as humans and receive stories that we believe them? Often, we look at people who’ve been the victims of cons and can be a bit disdainful. But once you get inside the world and understand the sophistication of how these people work on them, there’s a fascinating story to tell.”

Alongside the accounts of several of Azzopardi’s victims, are dramatisation sequences without dialogue.

“The way we do dramatisation has changed a lot, and it’s partly fashion. People go for different looks; new technology allows you to do fancy things. But there’s been an ethical change as well. The kinds of re-creations I do today, compared with what I might have done 15 years ago, are a lot more subtle. We’re more conscious about depicting violence and having empathy for the victims. True crime can get a bit cartoonish. You’ve got to remember that these are real people.”

While not at liberty to reveal the next curious true crime on his slate, Farrell is following with interest the recent Leongatha mushroom poisonings.

“I’ve been having discussions about that, along with half the other producers,” he admits. “From a technical perspective, it’s too soon because there’s no crime yet. But internationally, people are fascinated by that case. It has cut through around the world.”

As fiercely competitive as true crime is in the industry, Farrell is reluctant to call it a boom.

“True crime is one of the oldest kinds of stories,” he says. “It’s about massive transgression. It’s about life and death, and deception. It’s big, dramatic themes. I don’t think it’s a craze, but as audiences consume more, they’re becoming more sophisticated about what they will watch, and what they’ll tolerate. It’s not going to go away.”

Con Girl premieres Sunday, September 17, at 8.45pm, on Seven.

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